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Leaders ‘shocked’ by CN's mental health findings

Industry leaders have demanded urgent action on tackling mental health in the industry after “shocking” results in CN’sMind Matters survey showed a quarter of people working in construction have considered suicide.

CN’s industry-wide survey found that more than a quarter of construction employees said they had considered taking their own life, rising to one in three among junior members of staff and graduates.

In addition, one in seven have known a colleague who has taken their own life.

However, of those who had considered suicide and those who have known someone who has taken their own life, a staggering 90 per cent did not turn to their employer for support.

Dozens of survey respondents who said they had considered suicide said the reason they did not turn to their employer was due to “fear and stigma”.

Another respondent said: “It’s not comfortable discussing this with my employer, plus I would fear for my job and I need to work.”

Several respondents also said they could not go to their employer for help because they were themselves the employer.

The research also revealed that 55 per cent of construction workers had experienced mental health issues and 41 per cent had experienced these issues at their current place of work.

This is more than double the national average. According to mental health charity Mind, one in four people across the UK will experience a mental health issue each year and one in six people will have that experience at their current place of work.

More on the Mind Matters findings

Stigma surrounding mental health was highlighted in the survey with 82 per cent saying there is a taboo surrounding the issue in construction and many of those who have suffered admitting they had done so in silence.

A third (29 per cent) had taken time off work due to stress/mental health issues, but only 32 per cent of these respondents told their employer the real reason for their absence.

One survey respondent said: “I begrudge having to book a week off work on holiday so I don’t have to announce to my line manager that I’m stressed/depressed. My line manager just thinks I’m slacking off work because there is no physical evidence of me being ill.”

Get support

  • Construction Industry Helpline0345 605 1956– managed and funded by the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity
  • Mind, the mental health charity0300 123 3393– provides advice and support to anyone experiencing a mental health problem
  • The Samaritans116 123– confidential 24-hour support for people who are experiencing feelings of distress, despair or suicidal thoughts

The results have led to industry leaders calling for urgent action on tackling mental health issues in the construction industry including chief executives from the UK’s largest construction companies.

Senior leaders from companies including Bam Nuttall and Robertson Group this week told CN about their own experiences with family members who have had mental health illnesses, while leaders from rail, highways and residential sectors have called for urgent action on mental health awareness.

ISG chief executive Paul Cossell said the results “add further hard data to the growing body of evidence that the construction industry has to address mental health issues with far greater rigour”.

He said: “This is an overwhelmingly people-based industry, and while great strides have been taken to protect our employees from physical harm, it is clear we have to redouble our efforts in addressing mental health issues.”

Bam Construct UK health and safety director Andrea Singh described the results as “shocking”, while Robertson chief operating officer Derek Shewan called on the government to intervene.

He said: “In the old days of rough, tough construction work, people would tend to ignore it. But this is not acceptable. We need to be addressing it and the survey results are concerning.”

Ms Singh said: “The statistics are high and higher than national averages. But I’m not surprised due to the nature and make-up of our industry. Construction is male-dominated and men tend to be less comfortable disclosing mental health.”

In January this year, Construction News vowed to make mental health awareness one of its core themes for 2017 with the launch of its editorial campaign, Mind Matters.

The campaign comes at a time when mental health is being put under the spotlight by the media and government, with prime minister Theresa May and members of the Royal Family among those to speak out on the issue this year.

The Mind Matters survey provides further evidence that construction has an even greater battle to address mental health issues than in other sectors.

Last month, data from the Office for National Statistics revealed more than 1,400 construction workers took their own lives between 2011 and 2015– more than in any other industry.

The data revealed that those working in construction were 63 per cent more likely to die by suicide than the national average.

Mace director of health and safety for construction Martin Coyd said CN’s survey showed the construction industry needs to improve its record fast.

He said: “The whole industry needs to work together if we want to see progress and make a difference year on year. I believe the industry is ready to tackle this and we have a great opportunity right now.”

My story: Bam Nuttall CEO Steve Fox

Steve fox cn summit

Steve Fox 

Less than two years ago, my mother had a massive anxiety breakdown, which happened out of the blue.

She went to pieces. The consequences were pretty severe: she didn’t eat for five months and spent three-and-a-half months in hospital.

She’s since recovered but she’s a shadow of her former self. She hasn’t been outside for a year.

There were only two people in the world I talked to about it at the time: my sister and my wife. 

Now, I talk openly about situations in my life and the impact this has had on me.

One of the most powerful things that can really make a difference is for leaders to personally talk about these things. Leaders need to remove stigma and make sure that employees feel safe when having a conversation about mental health.

Leaders ‘shocked’ by CN's mental health findings

Readers' comments (5)

  • Bola Abisogun

    Great article; this is and has been an 'under the table' issue which continues to affect many individuals in a number of ways.

    Well done to CN for 'shining the light', in seeking to tease an informed discussion at all levels, on all sites and in all organisations.

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  • This latest data is shocking and only reinforces more the need for action!
    Health has been the poor relation to Safety for too long and should be treated at least as an equal.
    We need to put Health and Wellbeing at the top of the agenda. This is my focus at Colas and also for the Highways Term Maintenance Association during my year as Chairman.
    Good work CN for continuing to raise the profile. Together we can make a difference.

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  • Pwiddy

    It is great journalism that you are bringing this out in to the open. Fortunately I took notice of what close people were saying about my behaviour change and becoming quiet etc. I stopped putting the anxiety attacks and mistakes down to my age and pressure of work and sort professional help from my doctor. Major depression was diagnosed and it was a shock. Your first reaction is to hide it form people as there is a stigma, but then I thought b**lls to it and was open and honest about the situation. This was the game changer and I am well on the way to recovery having made some "change my way of life" decisions. My advice is seek help early, it is a biochemical illness and can be treated, don't be afraid about your job - your health his more important.

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  • Tom Fitzpatrick

    Bola/ Lee - thanks for your comments, much appreciated and good to hear of the work you're planning/ support for the issue.

    PWiddy - It's great that you've left a comment which shows by talking about your experience you were able to get on the path to recovery. Good on you, good advice and wish you all the best.

    - Tom Fitzpatrick (CN acting editor)

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  • One of the biggest causes of stress is the bullying culture in the construction industry. Its not a macho culture, it is not banter, and it is not a robust management style, it is bullying, and much of that comes from senior managers and even Directors. Most companies have anti bullying and harassment policies but most are not worth the paper they are written on.

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